Full Steam Arts offers arts classes to artists of all ages & experience levels.
I invite you to open up to your creativity and have more joy in your life!

Monday, May 31, 2010

Mining for Gold--What to do about Mistakes?

Recently, a student of mine was attempting to rub out a contrasting stray mark that ran through her "perfect" box of saturated color. I quietly watched while she talked her way through her anxiety while she continued to paint adding to the offensive mark. First she was irritated, then disappointed, then sad, then resigned, then neutral, then curious, then exploratory, then generative, then pleased, then lastly, proud. I held my breath, waiting for her to need help from me, a word or perhaps more, encouragement, acceptance, disappointment, to basically assist her in her time of stress.

Because she was absorbed in her own experience, I has some moments to reflect on how I should best respond when the time came. I was preparing myself for a brilliant comment. My moment did not come; she figured it out on her own--she stayed with her image, narrating aloud her feelings as listed above. By staying with her "mistake" and exploring the negative feelings that arose, she was able to transform her image and her experience.

This is what some might refer to as the Alchemical Process of Art--when we trust some inner intuitive impulse that creates gold out of coal--something out of nothing. Similar to practitioners of Mindfulness who report when they enter a feeling with non judgement and exit the other side transformed.

Why do we fret over a drip or mark or poorly rendered figure? Anxiety. A desire to have things "right." I want to encourage you to trust your mistakes as unconscious messages, as opportunities to accept yourself, to let go of the pursuit of perfection.

Imagine the last time you made a mistake. Remember any bad feelings that this generated. Notice what arises, anger, fear, rejection, shame. As you find yourself reacting to these feelings as "bad" or "good," purposely change your inner dialogue to label these feelings as "painful" or "suffering." Imagine your heart expanded and radiate this heart energy towards yourself, radically accepting your mistake and the resulting painful feelings. Allow the pain to dissolve like sugar in hot tea. Breathe. Accept. Love.

Now go out there and make some mistakes!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Art Rule: No Put Downs or Put Ups

I have a golden rule in my art classes: "There is no such thing as good or bad art" and logically it follows that: "No put downs or put ups in Art."

Well, technically there is "good" and "bad" art, but folks have been debating that for centuries & it largely comes down to individual preference. (See my earlier post on Meaninglessness.) And if you are one to view a lot of artwork, you might get that inner "buzz" which signals a resonance of universal recognition in a piece of artwork. Like a gut reaction; you are attracted to an image. This attraction can be beautiful or repulsive. And you can like or dislike a "good" piece of art.

But how does an artist create such a piece that speaks universally to people? Some have the ability as if it were channeled from a higher source; others work diligently for decades and may only hit it on occasion. Others struggle with it their whole lives, either loving or hating (or both) the ride.

But back to intuitive painting...

As we are accessing our internal material as creative expression, we struggle to not judge the result. Like with dreams, we can have preferences, but ultimately dreaming is a necessary part of restoring our body's vital energy and not up for debate on whether or not the act of dreaming itself is good or bad.

There are waking exercises one can do to influence dreams. Often discussing a positive dream topic can help a young child fall asleep peacefully at night. And with conscious effort, one can increase their ability to lucid dream and have some ability to alter the outcome of a dream. For example, turning around to face your pursuer or, in my case, I put the brakes on my out of control car and get out and walk to safety. But I didn't choose to have that car dream for the tenth time; I can only alter my actions and see how that affects the outcome.

Like painting, we should allow the topic to come through us and then sense into how we want to treat it when it appears on the paper. This can be a wildly liberating experience! We paint things we would never really do in real life. The sense of personal agency revitalizes us, much like a full night of REM sleep!

When I am teaching an art class, especially to kids, the artists struggle not so much with the put downs--they get that part-- but the put ups. This largely comes back to a child's recognition of what is universally accepted as "good" technique.

I cannot prevent each person from coming to the process of creating art with all their individual personalities--whether or not they jump into the project or hesitate & erase all efforts several times over. I have watched some kids have a little cry & then return to a satisfying, unrestricted effort. Sometimes I pat them gently through this and sometimes I let them struggle alone.

When we "put up" an image, we are forcing the range of human experience into a hierarchical preference. And the artist within hearing distance of our comment is affected by wondering where they fall on the hierarchy. It takes away from the individuality of the experience of art-making.

Is my dream of an out of control car ride a good one? Does it show that I have lost control over my life which points to some sort of defect in me? How do I come to understand these dreams and make meaning for myself?

For the child who hasn't developed the fine motor ability to work in small strokes--is he bad? Or what about the child who hasn't developed the cognitive ability to apply my verbal instructions to a visual representation?

I have always maintained that there are roughly two categories of art: representational or "photographic" and abstract or "interpretive." To develop your ability to create representational art, you must train your eyes to properly see what is there; not to draw what you know to be true about an object. This takes years of practice for most people.

To develop your ability to create interpretive art, you must trust your inner vision of the world, take major risks in both technique & personal vulnerability. This takes years of practice for most people.

Practice. Practice is the key to developing your artistic abilities. And an unwavering sense of entitlement. Each one of us is entitled to create art and develop our images without concern for put downs or put ups. If we worry about each image looking a certain way each time, we loose out on the important task of practicing and discovering what comes next in our images. Often, the "mistakes" are where we have the most juice and opportunity for growth.

My last car dream was fantastic: I discovered in finally crashing the car, I had a whole pit crew who came to my rescue and I was carried out safely on the their shoulders.